He's lying on something hard and unforgiving.
Flat… and slightly… ridged?
Or… or warped maybe.
He cautiously feels around him with his palms, his fingers, and encounters an edge that's alarmingly close. And then a splinter.
He winces and cautiously sits up, his head swimming a bit as his eyes begin to adjust to the darkness.
A small window with two bars forming a cross over it breaks up the murky stream of moonlight pouring in into four satisfyingly equal parts and he changes the pattern it leaves on the dusty ground beneath his feet as he swings his legs back and forth, his shadow blacking out the squares.
He can see just fine now.
And it's a long way down.
If he had rolled off while he was sleeping, he could have broken something because he isn't on a bench like he had thought. He's on a ledge just big enough for one ten-year-old boy to fit comfortably with a stack of comic books and a flashlight. And he had rolled off once. Broken something. An arm. He hadn't been able to play little league all summer.
He swings his legs once, twice, three more times, the musty smell of the place suddenly overwhelmingly familiar.
Rain - swing - rust - swing - dust – swing -
He knows where he is now.
He's in the shed behind the house. His old hiding place. He's not supposed to play in here anymore though. Daddy keeps his tools in here now and he can see their sharp edges gleaming through the shadows below his feet. The skeletal wheels of Momma's old bicycle hanging on the wall by little blocks of wood. That's how he must've gotten up here, by using the blocks as foot and hand holds. At least that's how he used to do it before Daddy stuck the ten-speed up there trying to keep him from camping out on the ledge.
He swings his legs one last time and lands with a soft thud and a cloud of dusty dirt, clearing the whole mess of junk beneath him he's not allowed to touch.
It's late. Way past dinner.
Momma and Daddy are probably worried sick and he's gonna get a scolding for sure.
An owl hoots from the trees as he steps out into the backyard. The grass is high and it swipes against his bare legs tickling and scratching. He looks up at the house and all the lights are off.
Even if Daddy had gone looking for him, Momma would have been sitting in the kitchen waiting to skin his hide when he finally came home.
He opens the front door and steps inside and the house is too still, everything is too still.
He nervously picks up the phone in the hallway and dials Granny Jane's number holding his breath until she answers and says in a rush when she does, "GrannyJaned'yaknowwhereMommaandDaddyareahjustgothomean'noone'she-"
"Who is this?"
He takes a breath. He tries again.
"It's me, Cody, d'ya kno-"
"Now listen, if this is yo' idea of a joke it's not funny!" Granny Jane's kind voice is shaking with anger and she hangs up on him before he can say another word.
He's about to dial again when he hears it - the click, click, clicking of claws on linoleum.
The house has never felt so big and scary and unfamiliar, but Duke is here and that makes him feel a little better. He hangs up the phone, relieved he's not alone anymore as the Great Dane pokes his head out of the kitchen.
"Hey, Duke, where is ever'body?"
Duke stares at him as he slowly slinks out into the hallway, head low, tail not waving all crazy like it usually does. It's straight back, taut enough to rest a plate on, his ears down flat on his head.
Duke's lips skim back over his teeth. They glint in the darkness like the sharpest tools in the shed as a low growl crawls up from his belly.
"Boy?" he whispers and his dog lurches at him, the growl bursting into a snarling bark. The impact of Duke's body barreling into his sends him flying against the stairs where he cracks his head against the railing and a black wave splashes across his vision. He blindly flings his hands up in front of his face trying to protect himself as the room spins and spins, and the teeth snap and scrape.
He claps his bloody hands around Duke's muzzle desperately trying to hold his snarling mouth shut and a stinging suddenly shoots straight up his arms and explodes in his brain, a flash of light behind his eyes, a surging in his skull.
His back arches, his neck stiffens, his fingers claw, frozen in front of his face. 5 seconds go by, maybe 10, maybe 100 before he collapses in a boneless heap and slides down the stairs, down to where Duke is lying, down to where Duke is not breathing.
He scrambles whimpering up the steps to Momma and Daddy's bedroom and crawls deep under the covers, rolling himself into a tight ball. He doesn't know what else to do, where else to go. Granny Jane hung up on him. She's mad at him. Duke is dead and he's all alone in his big scary house. He wants Momma. He wants Daddy. He wants this to stopstopstopstopstop…
He closes his eyes tight and starts counting to one hundred. His heart beats so hard it echoes in his ears and he gives each one a shaky number before falling asleep at ninety-six.
When he wakes it feels like hours have passed, but it is still dark, the house is still quiet. All there is is his shallow breathing and he listens to it as he stares up at the ceiling. The covers he had hidden under are now twisted around his legs pinning him down leaving him open to the air, exposed. A sob rises in his throat and he sits up, starting as he catches his reflection in the dresser mirror.
A girl stares back at him.
He knows her.
He remembers suddenly that's where he was before he woke up in the shed. With her. At the tree by the river taking turns swinging on the rope. He remembers watching her white Sunday dress swirl around her tanned legs like melting whipped cream in a cup of hot chocolate. He remembers thinking she was as sweet as that easy despite the act she put on. He remembers telling her so and expecting to get his butt kicked.
He remembers kissing her to make sure the beating would be worth it.
And then there was the darkness of the shed he doesn't remember going into. He untangles himself from the sheets, crawls to the edge of the bed and the girl crawls towards him too. He reaches out, traces her pale cheek, his fingers sliding along the cool glass. He touches his own face. She touches hers. He opens his mouth, says her name, and she does it too. He steps away from the mirror, and she echoes his movements. She looks confused, scared. She looks down at her ragged dress, dirty and torn and he feels it swish against his legs like streamers. He stares at his bare feet, clenches his fists in the skirt. His long hair brushes against his cheek, and it's not blonde. It's shoulder-length, matted and brown.
She looks at the room, at the rumpled bed, the ceiling fan turning a lazy circle, the dresser with bottles of flowery smelling lotions and perfumes, the brush with gold strands tangled in the bristles…
And she doesn't… she doesn't know…
How did she get here?
She leaves the bedroom, wanders down the hallway. She goes into the next room hoping to recognize something, hoping this is a place she should be.
Toy planes hang from the ceiling by strings. There's a bookshelf with trophies and ribbons in blue and red and white. There are clothes on the floor, a book bag, a baseball mitt, comic books and markers.
This is a boy's room. This isn't her room.
This isn't her house.
She's not supposed to be here at all.
A car door slams outside.
She runs out into the hall and stops, her eyes catching on the portraits hanging on the wall. A family. Momma, Daddy, Baby. She watches the baby get bigger and bigger in the photographs until she recognizes him.
That boy from school who is always looking at her, always asking her questions, always following her around. She saw him today. They met up after church and went to the swimming hole. He-
The door downstairs opens.
A gasp, a cry, "Oh mah God!"
She runs to the top of the stairs and there's a woman at the bottom of them touching a dog that's lying so still it must be dead.
There's a man there too and he's staring at her. "Hey!" he says again. "Y'that girl, that girl mah boy ran off with… Whatcha doin' here… What happened to ya… Ya bleedin' girl…"
He comes up the stairs, his hands out and reaching for her and suddenly she remembers. She remembers Cody reaching for her. Cody pressing his lips against hers and the bad thing happening.
The man looks like him. Even in the darkness, she can see his sandy hair flopping over his forehead like Cody's does, his wide blue eyes…
His fingers brush against the tattered sleeve of her best dress and she remembers Cody did this too right before he kissed her, right before she-
"Don't touch me!" she screams and jerks herself away from Cody's daddy because she thinks she killed the dog, she thinks she killed Cody, and she thinks she knows how she did it.